In the 1960s, the Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design (The RISD Museum), established an early and deep connection with the art of Latin America. In a sweeping attempt to create a broader context for our strong North American collections, money and energy were committed to the purchase of the work of contemporary artists from all over South and Central America and the Caribbean. For this pioneering foresight, we continue to be grateful to former Director Daniel Robbins (1932-95; director at The RISD Museum, 1965-71) and the family of Nancy Sayles Day, who established the Nancy Sayles Day Collection of Modern Latin American Art in her memory.
Over the years these holdings have grown into an impressive body of works that are regularly seen in special exhibitions as well as within the Museum’s twentieth century galleries. For Island Nations, our curators have chosen to look beyond the Museum’s collections in order to focus on art made in Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico, and also by émigrés from these countries. In part, narrowing the view has allowed us to zero in on important contemporary issues — tropical paradise countered by economic isolation, sometimes desperate poverty, and emigration — that are common to this one area of the extremely broad region defined as Latin America. Judith Tannenbaum, Richard Brown Baker Curator of Contemporary Art, and René Morales, Curatorial Assistant, traveled to the area to visit artists’ studios and homes, following the trail of work that defies stereotype.